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Glover v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 7, 2020




         Before the Court are the parties' respective motions for judgment on the pleadings (Docket Nos. 10 (plaintiff), 12 (defendant Commissioner)). Having considered the Administrative Record, filed as Docket No. 7 (references noted as “[R.__ ]”), and the papers of both sides, this Court reaches the following decision.


         This is an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security that plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to disability insurance benefits. The parties consented to proceed before a Magistrate Judge (Docket No. 14, reassignment Order of Oct. 4, 2019).


         The plaintiff (“Darrell Glover, Sr.” or “plaintiff”) filed an application for disability insurance benefits on July 13, 2015 [R. 20]. That application was denied initially. The plaintiff appeared before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who considered the case de novo and concluded, in a written decision dated November 27, 2017, that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on September 7, 2018, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review.

         Plaintiff commenced this action on October 26, 2018 (Docket No. 1). The parties moved for judgment on the pleadings (Docket Nos. 8, 12), and plaintiff duly replied (Docket No. 13). Upon further consideration, this Court then determined that the motions could be decided on the papers.


         Plaintiff, a 49-year-old (born July 23, 1965) with a high school education, last worked as a shaping machine set up operator and maintenance mechanic, later found by the vocational expert as medium exertion work [R. 28, 29]. He contends that he was disabled as of the onset date of February 25, 2015 [R. 20]. Defendant argues the relevant period is from December 18, 2015, when plaintiff applied for benefits, 20 C.F.R. § 416.335, through November 27, 2017, when plaintiff was found disabled (Docket No. 12, Def. Memo. at 2 & n.2[1]) [R. 30]. Plaintiff injured his knees at work in February 2015 [R. 261] (id. at 3).

         Plaintiff claims the following impairments deemed severe by the ALJ: lumbar disc herniation with myelopathy; multilevel spinal stenosis with radiculopathy; cervical disc disorder with myelopathy; and bilateral knee osteoarthritis [R. 23].


         As for plaintiff's knees following his work-related injuries, in May 2016, Dr. Gregory Chiaramonte examined plaintiff and found that plaintiff could work but with restrictions from prolonged walking, standing, kneeling, squatting, and heavy lifting of over 20 pounds [R. 426, 27] (Docket No. 12, Def. Memo. at 3). The ALJ gave some weight to the doctor's opinion [R. 27]. A month later, plaintiff had knee surgery on his right knee [R. 418] and later used a cane [R. 307] (id.). By August 2015, Dr. Robert Bauer examined plaintiff and opined that plaintiff had “no formal sitting, lifting, bending, or standing restrictions. He can handle a gallon of milk” [R. 434, 27] (id. at 4). The ALJ gave little weight to this opinion, however, because plaintiff's longitudinal medical record illustrated otherwise [R. 27]. On November 2015, consultative examiner Dr. Hongbiao Liu examined plaintiff and opined that plaintiff had moderate limitation in prolonged walking, bending, and kneeling [R. 438, 27] (id.). The ALJ gave Dr. Liu's findings some weight because the record supported additional exertional, postural, and manipulative limitations not contained in Dr. Liu's opinion [R. 27]. In February 2016, plaintiff had surgery on his left knee [R. 439] (id.).

         As for plaintiff's back, in the spring of 2015, plaintiff had imaging of his lumbar spine for complaints of pain, with images indicating degenerative changes in the lower facets, L5-S1 disc bulge, L4-L5 disc bulge, L3-L4 moderate central and bilateral foraminal stenosis, and L2-L3 mild central stenosis [R. 274, 297, 26] (id. at 4-5). In July 2015, plaintiff underwent surgery at ¶ 3-L5 [R. 321, 26] (id. at 5). In June 2016, plaintiff had further surgery on his back [R. 499, 26] but in November 2016 plaintiff still complained of lower back pain [R. 477, 480, 26]. Additional surgery was approved but plaintiff declined further surgical intervention at that time [R. 484, 26]. In June 2017, plaintiff had further imaging of his back, revealing stable hardware placement and some soft tissue swelling [R. 514, 26]. In July 2017, plaintiff agreed to have further lumbar spinal surgery [R. 517, 26] (id. at 5-6).

         Plaintiff also complained of upper right, non-dominant extremity issues related to his cervical spine, but the longitudinal evidence showed that he had full grip strength with that arm and hand [R. 362, 406, 437, 487, 520, 26-27], with occasions of decreased grip strength [R. 455, 457, 512, 513, 26-27] (id. at 6).

         Plaintiff testified that both of his knees were deteriorating, with neck and back pain, causing numbness down his right leg and right arm [R. 53, 24]. The ALJ concluded that plaintiff's statements were not consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence [R. 25].

         At Step Two, the ALJ found other claimed impairments (such as diverticulosis, pancreatitis, hypertension, anemia, obesity, and hypomagnesemia[2]) were not severe, stating that these ailments were conservatively treated and appeared well-controlled [R. 23]. The ALJ concluded that these ailments did not cause more than slight abnormalities and did “not have more than a minimal effect on the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities for a continuous period of 12 months during the period at issue, ” [R. 23]. At Step Three, the ALJ found that the severe impairments did not meet or equal Listings 1.02, 1.04 [R. 23].

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had a residual functional capacity to perform light work with exceptions, that plaintiff can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; occasionally climb ramps or stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; must use cane to ambulate; must avoid concentrated exposure to slippery and uneven surfaces; never work in hazardous environments such as at unprotected heights or around dangerous machinery and open flames; must be in a position that would allow the person stand for approximately five minutes after sitting for approximately thirty minutes while remaining at the work station; and frequently handle and occasionally finger with the right non-dominant hand [R. 23-24].

         The ALJ then found that plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work as a shaping machine setup operator or mechanic [R. 28]. With a residual functional capacity to perform light work, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled when applying the Medical-Vocational Rule 202.21 and 202.14 standards, but plaintiff's ability to perform all or substantially all the requirements for light work were impeded by additional limitations [R. 29]. The ALJ found plaintiff's age on his onset date was 49 years old and he later changed to closely approaching advanced age, 20 C.F.R. § 1563(d) [R. 29]. With this capacity and the inability to perform plaintiff's past work, the ALJ asked the vocational expert whether there were jobs in the national economy for someone in plaintiff's circumstances. The expert opined that ...

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